Transposition

LVB: I meant to ask you when you mentioned all the Barret and –, did you have to transpose all those?

RA: Yes, I had to transpose the beginning, the articulated lessons [sing examples in solfege]. I had to transpose those, but you know, Laurie, I can’t remember whether I had to transpose the little sonatas; I don’t believe I had to, no, but I do remember the articulated lessons. That to me is very vivid now. The scales, right into the Barret book; scales, into the Ferling.

JM: If you’re going to ask me about transposition later, please do so at the proper time. If you aren’t, then I’ll just say something about it now.

LVB: Say something now.

JM: Say something now – okay. Well, I make all my students transpose, and the reason I do that is, I think, the same reason Tabuteau did. Not so that you would be able to pick up the instrument and transpose something. Naturally that would be an acquired skill and something the trumpet and horn players need and we don’t really, but the purpose of transposition in my own estimation and certainly in my own teaching is to develop the connection between the ear and the fingers of an oboist. Anyone of us who has been in the Barret book could sing any Barret study for you in any key with no problem, just from memory. Our vocal chords will respond to the thought of our mind and our ear. And yet to pick up the oboe and try to do that immediately shows the lack of connection between our hearing in our head and our deftness with the instrument. And I think that’s one reason he made us do that. Everything had to be transposed, usually into the nearest-most-difficult key. That was just part and parcel of musical training; I think a very, very good one also – one of those things that can develop an added element of fluency. Let’s drop that for now anyway and go on; we may run into it from another direction

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LVB: Why was Tabuteau so strong on transposition of etudes?

JD: Well, transposition served a number of purposes. This is a subject that I can’t, there’s only one thing that he ever said to me about it; I’m assuming another aspect of it. The one thing that he mentioned was and that is you had to practice, you couldn’t fake your way through a lesson. So that was an enforcement along those lines. The other two reasons for my continuing, no, I mean, there are two other reasons, one of them is one that I assumed and that was that, you know you tell a student, the student comes and he plays a lesson, and then you correct him and tell him and so on and so forth. It’s very difficult to know whether they understood what you said, but if they have to play it again, then you get an opportunity to see if they understood. Now when they have to do it in a transposition that doesn’t change the music any; all right that’s the second reason. The first is that they have to practice; they can’t get a way away with faking. The second is that you get an opportunity hear the same piece again to see if they understood the musical corrections of the things that you are doing. The third thing is another assumption of mine, and I never asked him, along with lots of things that I should have asked him, but I don’t know I just didn’t. But, I can tell you that back before the Second World War, if you played any opera, it was not at all uncommon, you know the proliferation of printed music just didn’t exist, we didn’t have copying machines, we didn’t have all this very inexpensive way of reproducing all kinds of material, so that it was a very common thing if you played opera, maybe you’d get towards the second or third act, the contractor would come into the pit during intermission and say now the tenor has a cold or he isn’t going to make that high c, we’ve got to transpose the whole section down a half step or maybe even a whole step. And you were supposed to be able to do it; that was part of your equipment. Now his [Tabuteau’s] early training was in opera; he spent seven years at the Metropolitan, and this probably happened frequently. I know that in my very limited experience as a student playing operas in Philadelphia, it happened to me many times. Now I also know for me at the time it was as simple as pie, because I did it every week. And I know that a lot of people who were working in the opera company they had a tough time, and boy the conductors used to boil when they’d say this has to be transposed, and there would be some monumental bloopers that would take place during the performance when people were trying to transpose at sight. So that I think that that was part of it also. He wanted us to have the ability to do this quickly, which was very good. Now there is a fourth reason too, and that is that it adds to your technique, because it means, you know if you take any example, and put it up a half step and down a half step, you’re going to go through almost all of the conceivable combinations of fingerings that you would have to, and it’s a very definite technical aid.